O'Neal v. Division of Family Services

In O'Neal v. Division of Family Services, 821 P.2d 1139, 1140 (Utah 1991) the Court refused to toll the statute in a case involving a plaintiff who had been sexually abused as a teenager and was aware of the abuse, but who had psychologically been unable to reveal the abuse until many years later. The Court reasoned that "under our discovery rule cases, his knowledge of the facts underlying the cause of action precludes his reliance on that rule" because his "inability to reveal the abuse was not the same as his not knowing of the abuse." The Court accordingly held that he had failed to diligently pursue his claim. In O'Neal v. Division of Family Services, the Court considered nonmedical evidence to determine that O'Neal was not mentally incompetent so as to toll the statute of limitations. We noted that from 1977 until 1986, O'Neal was able to care for his personal safety and provide himself with necessities such as food, shelter, medical care, and clothing. The Court noted that he received his general education degree and attended classes at Utah Technical College. He also worked at a number of odd jobs while living with his mother or roommates. Finally, the Court noted that, since 1981, O'Neal lived either alone or with a roommate and worked at Rocky Mountain Helicopters, where he was promoted from driving a truck to negotiating the recovery of warranty damages from suppliers for the failure of covered parts. This nonmedical, nonexpert evidence went directly to O'Neal's mental competency under Utah Code Ann. 78-12-36 (2002) his ability to "manage his business affairs or estate" or "to comprehend his legal rights or abilities." In addition, this evidence showed his ability to care for himself and provide necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing. The Court discussed the application of Utah Code Ann. 78-12-36 (2002) as to mental incompetency: "The Utah legislature has recognized that the mechanical application of statutorily fixed limitations periods may unjustly penalize people who are unable to bring or maintain an action because of disability. To address this problem, the legislature has provided for the tolling of statutes of limitations during a plaintiff's disability." The Court continued, "Tolling statutes based on mental incompetency are enacted to relieve from the strict time restrictions people 'who are unable to protect their legal rights because of an overall inability to function in society.'" Ultimately, the Court held: In determining what sort of lack of ability and capacity to protect one's legal rights qualifies for disability protection, courts generally hold that a person is incompetent for the purposes of a provision tolling a statute of limitations "when the disability is of such a nature to show him or her unable to manage his or her business affairs or estate, or to comprehend his or her legal rights or liabilities."